Durham Students’ Union (DSU) has announced a new package of financial support available to postgraduate students to support their participation in academic opportunities they would otherwise miss out on.
The money is being made available using the remainder of the strike funds that were allocated to the DSU. Grants of up £500 are available for individual postgraduate students or £750 for group applicants during this academic year, with up to one application per term. Students should then spend their grants before the end of this academic year, meaning no later than 25th September.
Reimbursements are also available to students up to a value of £200, with any payments above this value being made directly from the DSU. Receipts will be required for reimbursement.
There will be two rounds of funding available to accommodate for differing timescales for individuals. The first round will run from the 9th to the 23rd May, and the second round from 30th May to the 27th June. Applicants can expect to hear the outcomes of their applications within 14 days of the closing date of each round.
On the fund’s webpage, the DSU said “Postgraduate participation in academic life is an increasingly expensive activity, one which is only partly improved by other available funding, much of which is either highly competitive or limited in size or scope.”
The DSU have acknowledged that while costs to participate in academic activities have increased in recent years, the support available has so far not increased as proportionately. Both the Covid-19 pandemic and inflation were given as reasons for such cost increases.
Postgraduate Officer Declan Merrington spoke to Palatinate about the new fund, saying that “Often when people discuss the marketisation of higher education, two things go under the radar; postgraduate fees, and participation in the wider academic experience.
“We set up this scheme so that these two things would be considered in the conversation, and so that we could do something to tangibly help with access to these things. It will benefit PGs specifically in the hidden fees of postgraduate education: conference fees, publication fees, transport, journal membership…the kinds of things that PGs are expected to just handle themselves without help”.
Merrington stressed that the previous scheme dedicated to support postgraduate participation in the Wider Student Experience (WSE) is still in operation and that this new scheme for academic support was an addition, not a replacement; “It’s focused on academic participation, then, in tandem with the scheme for clubs and societies. We chose to focus on something academic to compliment what was already available”.
Merrington also explained how the fund shows that the DSU is listening to student feedback, saying that “I’d also like to mention that Q26 of the NSS (the question which asks students how well their student’s union represented their academic interests) specifically mentions academic representation, and I’ve been trying to take into account the feedback from this in order to improve it”.
Merrington also clarified where the money for the new fund has come from, explaining that following the industrial action in 2018/19 and 2019/20, a portion of the staff fund was allocated to the DSU. This fund meant academic societies were made free for all students, with the new postgraduate funding scheme using that same pool of money.
“I think it’s important to say that this has nothing to do with this year’s industrial action, but previous years. This money was signed off by the University and ring-fenced for SU use, so it isn’t coming directly from the SU’s budget but rather the separate strike fund”.
The DSU has listed a number of approved activities for grants to be spent on, such as conference-related and research-related fees, like subscribing to a journal. Successful recipients of funding will be asked to write a short article about how they used their funding at the end of the academic year.
Image: Adeline Zhao